"Students claim I'm on my ninth career": Gigi Johnson reflects on her journey
Photo provided by Gigi Johnson
Anything digital disruption in creative industries, Gigi Johnson does it all. Founding the Center for Creative Futures at Maremel, she explores how creativity can co-exist with the advancing technologies in AI and works with startups and organizations in media, music and education. Gigi also teaches classes in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Music Industry Program, where she was the Founding Executive Director of the UCLA Center for Music Innovation for five years.

"I firmly believe that any school can be a good place to go if you're interested in going into the music industry," Gigi states as we begin our conversation. "There's a lot of hype and magic around the conversation about where you should go to school, [but] in many ways it's about what you want to do in it." Explaining that no music industry program is a magic bullet, she tells me that the key is being passionate about whatever it is that you're going into. Isn't that what everyone says?
At the same time, because most people believe, as Gigi describes it, the bright shiny box that is the outside of a university program, less people are trying to figure out whether a certain education will even fit them and asking questions about the educational design. "We all have really different educational designs: everybody has their own beliefs as to what creates a good, thoughtful musician … who will be able to succeed," she believes.

Wanting to go to film school but not having enough resources to purchase a film camera, Gigi figured she could make use of the opportunities available to her instead. When it came time to start studying at USC Film School, the young mogul had already written three plays, done everything she could with her photo camera, and ran creative art projects. "I did a bunch of interesting, off-the-wall stuff [that] had nothing to do with film school and I really stuck my nose to learn," she says. This is what she means by passion. Essentially, if you're not already doing everything you can to get your hands in the music industry while still in high school and waiting for college for that to happen, Gigi suggests looking into a different field.
What are you passionate about enough to step into it already?
Talking about how she got into film, Gigi laughs and says it happened because of one report card. When the entrepreneur got accepted into USC with a full ride scholarship, she wanted to be a brain scientist, which wasn't a popular field. Having spent a significant amount of time doing lab work, she knew she had to switch from her Biology major. "I took one film school class and the TA wrote: 'you should apply to film school!'" Johnson laughs. "I had been a Russian Studies minor [and] International Relations major with an emphasis in Public Relations — another life direction — applied to film school and got accepted."

There, the Maremel founder explored the world of documentaries, which is tied to a lot of what she does now. During her time at USC, her team won Television Academy Best Student Documentary. After graduation, Gigi spent a few years in the public relations and advertising field, and decided to get an MBA.

Gaining a lot of knowledge in finance, Johnson worked at Bank of America, which involved a lot of "turmoil and [media] acquisitions." Ten years later, she was invited to initially fix a program at UCLA Anderson — that resulted in her running four different programs on digital disruption and creative systems change, transferring to Herb Alpert School of Music to create a cutting-edge music marketing class, teaching there and building the Center for Music Innovation.

At the time, there wasn't any entity that was looking at the drastic changes happening in the music industry and why they were happening and the impact it had on musicians and communities, so she launched a pilot of what became the Center for Music Innovation. "[The main focus was on] working with different people and organizations, figuring out what the gaps were that people were looking to fix and helping sides understand each other's business," Gigi says. Unfortunately, the center closed after five years due to lack of funding.
Gigi also found herself working with the Applied Manager Research program, and it was through this that she kept bumping into companies that were going through transformation (she funded massive transformation in media as a banker), which led her to found programs on strategic change, run an entertainment center at the business school, organize an internet center before the internet bubble popped, produced some of the first YouTube channels and online classes.

Teaching at UCLA, Johnson is busy with Maremel, the company she founded in 2001. "Maremel is where all of my YouTube channel shows, concerts, books and various creative projects went," she tells me, explaining that this is also where she puts the projects she does with and for others: anything from conferences on technology and human systems to consulting for media and education companies.

Two years ago, the professor did The Future of Music in Los Angeles, where the events were geared towards bringing people to talk about where their sectors are going. This project turned into Amplify Music — created out of the non-profit Rethink Next — the core of which is getting people together and initiating conversation around digital disruption of the workforce in the creative industry. "It really was meant to be stone soup [where] everyone brought something to the table," Gigi shares. "We had 90 speakers and 30 organizations, and helped many people meet."

In 2018, the music innovation mogul launched that nonprofit, Rethink Next, to bring people together to have community conversations about their future, which has become one of Gigi's main themes in every project.
Where are we trying to transform and what are things we can learn from each other that are happening locally across the world?
Talking about what is next for the music industry and where the music innovation and digital disruption is heading, Johnson feels a little dubious to state an exact route. "Wherever there's a hole, there's a need for someone [to fix it]," she adds, telling me about the current trends. "Music going into games or behind gamers is a big thing and there's a need to humanize the livestream concert experience; new modes of aggregation and you've got people trying to figure out AI and how much do we [want to] automate."

Gigi wraps our conversation by comparing innovation to the wave analogy: you can be too early and the wave will crash on you, you can be behind the wave and miss it, or you can time it so that you're on the top at the right moment.
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